In the last three years I have experienced the deaths of two family members. Their final chapters could not have been more different.

BeAtEase_Post-it-01On a very fundamental level, each one of us has a sense for how we want the end of our life to play out. Whether or not that “end” is achieved depends largely on how well we have communicated our most basic wishes to others. In the last three years I have experienced the deaths of two family members. Their final chapters could not have been more different.

My mother-in-law died unexpectedly in 2010 at the age of 68. She had a life-long fear of doctors and hospitals and did not want to go to the hospital – ever. She also didn’t want to talk about death. In the end, she died in a hospital after extraordinary means were attempted to revive her. She died exactly the way she didn’t want to – because she didn’t document her wishes and the emergency medical community did what they were trained to do – try to save her life.

On the other hand, her mother, my husband’s grandmother was still living in the area at the time. She was in her 90’s, but healthy and living independently until she broke her hip six months after she buried her daughter. She was a remarkable woman who found the strength to get through surgery and rehab and return home. With the help of her grandchildren and home health workers, she was able to stay in her home, but she worried about being a burden, despite assurances from family. Unlike her daughter, Mildred had her “affairs” in order. My sister-in law was her health care agent, she had her DNR, she had a physician who made house calls (yes, really – still in 2013!) but she still worried that her life would be prolonged and she would die either in a nursing home or a hospital, neither of which she wanted.

Mildred was increasingly voicing her concerns in early 2012 and we knew the only way to provide her peace was to have her tell us her plan. As a family, we met with her and had her clearly tell us what she wanted at the end of her life. She was clear she didn’t want life extending measures of any kind, she wanted to be in her home and she wanted to be free of pain. She also shared with us what she wanted for herself after her death, and where she wanted her final resting place to be. We had her physician come so that he could talk to her about her wishes, and know what kind of care she wanted and didn’t want.

In January of this year, Mildred began to show signs of rapid decline. She was born in Kansas in 1918 and lived a disciplined life. You did not give up doing what you were “supposed” to do merely because you were tired. And believe me, she was tired. My sister-in-law finally made the call for a hospice evaluation and she was admitted on a Sunday evening in early March due to failure to thrive. The family members that were there with her let out a collective sigh of relief. Once hospice was on board, Mildred felt she had the permission she needed to begin the active dying process. She got the pain management she needed, she was allowed to stop eating and her end came within 10 days. She died in her home just shy of her 95 birthday.

In retrospect, we, as a family, ultimately completed an advance care plan without the benefit of the Be@Ease program.   Knowing about Be@Ease now, and being personally involved with this initiative has helped me make peace with her death, knowing we did all we could do to make her end of life what she wanted it to be.

I have completed Be@Ease’s 3-step planning process for myself. It is never too early to plan for your end. It brings a certain peace and clarity to the now.

Rachel C.
Barrington, IL